€1.8b Quantum Plan Puts France on the Map for AI

6 months ago by Luke James

In 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron presented the country’s artificial intelligence (AI) roadmap: his vision and strategy to make France a leader in AI technology. Now, Macron has presented a new national strategy for quantum technologies, a five-year €1.8 billion plan that will finance research in quantum computing, communications, and sensing.

Annual spending in this sector will increase by €140 million for a total of €200 million over the next five years, putting France in third place after the U.S. and China. Current estimates say that the U.S. is spending $400 million of public funding on quantum technology each year. The remaining €800 million will come from commitments made by industry (€500 million), European funding (€200 million), and other investors (€100 million).

According to Macron, France’s quantum strategy is based on two main areas: the first is “global and integrated technological development, from fundamental research to industrialisation”, and the second is “the strengthening of the French innovation ecosystem in its European environment, in particular by developing human capital and by recruiting, training and attracting the best both in public research and in industry.”

 

Emmanuel Macron announces France’s ‘Plan Quantique’ (French for ‘Quantum Plan’).

Image credit: Élysée via the French National Centre for Scientific Research

 

France’s Growing Dominance in Quantum Computing

In the long-term, despite not knowing the true power and limits of quantum computing, researchers hope that it will be possible to use it to build highly sensitive machines with calculation capacities well beyond what’s currently possible with modern supercomputers. 

Over the last few years, France, which is known for its excellence in mathematics, has become a hotspot for quantum research. Labs are starting to pop up all over the country, and some of the world’s leading tech firms like IBM have moved here to poach research and engineering talent.

In Grenoble, three of these labs, CEA-Leti, INAC, and the Institut Néel, have formed the QuCube project, backed by €14 million in European Research Council funding, to develop a silicon-based quantum processor. Meanwhile, French aerospace and defence company Thales is developing quantum cryptography devices and sensors, which they say should make it possible to detect degenerative diseases within the next five years.

Last year also saw the launch of Sorbonne University’s Quantum Information Centre, a hub that combines work in quantum technology with the philosophy of quantum and what it is.

 

Where Is the Funding Going?

According to the French newspaper Le Monde, most of the money will be spent on quantum machines themselves, which use subatomic processes to perform calculations out of reach of ‘regular’ computers. The rest of the money will be used to fund research into sensors, post-quantum cryptography, quantum communications, and other technologies that are used in the building of quantum equipment.

The plan breaks the funding down as follows:

  • €430 million to the universal quantum computer
  • €350 million to projects on quantum simulators
  • €320 million to quantum communication systems
  • €300 million to related quantum technologies (e.g., cryogenics) 
  • €250 million to quantum sensors
  • €150 million to post-quantum cryptography

 

According to the quantum plan, the funding should make it possible to fund “around a hundred thesis grants and around fifty post-doctoral contracts”, in addition to “a dozen excellent researchers,” per year. Eventually, Macron claims, France may be the first country to have a complete, working prototype of a general-purpose quantum computer. 

“A country like France cannot win every tech race. Quantum seems like one that is winnable,” said Théau Peronnin, co-founder and CEO of Alice & Bob, a start-up building a quantum computer.

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